Published by CTC Press Seattle, WA 98103 Copyright (c) 1990 by C.T. Chew Library of Congress cataloging in Publication Data Main entry under title:Ralph Doid city planner 1. English language--biography FBI567.CS 34T3 76-35WISBN 0- 38658932 Undexed) ISBN 0- 91870915 deluxe Doid is a registered trademark of the Duwamish historical Society. All rights reserved. No part of this work covered by the copyrights hereon may be reproduced or copied in any form or by any means (except photocopy or over the Web of course) without written permission of the publisher. Made in the United States of America 120790
Ralph Doid, a Man and Some Dreams 
The Centennial Celebration Banner 
The Oriental Obelisk 
Floating City Hall 
The Great Wall of Seattle 
I - About the Artist and Author 
II - Catalog of Restorations 
III - Making of the Banner 
Choice of Coffee, Tea, or Aperitif
with your Dessert
The history of Seattle is salt and peppered with the lives of interesting characters. From the pioneers who tried in vain to locate Seattle on the Alki sand spit before finally retreating to the shelter afforded by Elliott Bay, to R.H. Thompson who removed the dirt from Mr. Denny's hill to a mile south so we can enjoy the sports parks today, colorful individuals have left their indelible marks on our present condition. None of this legacy of movers and shakers received such an acclaim of mixed reviews though, as did one- the wiry, bespectacled, enigmatic Ralph Doid.
In 1979, having lived in Seattle for a modest 10 years, I had not yet had the pleasure of a postmortem introduction to Ralph Doid (he died in 1956). But an article in the Seattle Times (Fig.-1) that year caught my attention.
It was not long after clipping this news item out and pinning it to my wall that I became intrigued with restoring some of Mr. Doid's drawings and ideas. I wrote to the Duwamish Historical Society and was referred to its president, Baldwin Sardoon. Using examples of my artwork, I convinced Mr. Sardine that I should be trusted to work on the Doid documents damaged in the fire. Later, I received a letter from the Society trustees who gave me permission to begin work, but cautioned me that they had no funding for the project and thought I should find a source of remuneration for the extensive work which the restoration would require.
Concurrently, the City of Seattle through its Arts Commission was seeking proposals from the community for artwork which was thoughtful in its contemplation of the "city as museum". A small flame of hope ignited within me as I used my imagination to stretch the Arts Commission's prospectus for funding into my ticket to recreate Ralph Doid's work.
Luckily, I received the Doid grant, and my work began. Today, ten years and many restorations later, it still continues! Due to the generous support of the City of Seattle, Russel Barsh, and Doris and Martin Haykin of the Duwamish Historical Society, the Mertleman Benz Foundation, and now Bryan Schiffrin McMonagle Elston & Twiss I have been able to further our understanding and enjoyment of someone, who in the eyes of many, is the vital pith of our northwest roots.
Ralph Doid, a Man and Some Dreams
Reference to Ralph's parents is sketchy. We do know that they traveled by train from Philadelphia to the Northwest in 1881, setting up a small family store which quickly evolved into what could only be described as a 'ma and pa' pharmaceutical company. Both Franklin and Edith Roth Doid prided themselves in their concoctions for "every ailment that can get'cha", and tested each new drug on themselves, believing that tests on animals or other humans were "beside the point". This testing during Edith's pregnancy probably resulted in a syndrom. that Seattle historian Milton Lavery calls, "a Helenic tragedy shadowing Ralph's entire life."
It comes as no surprise that young Ralph was a difficult son and impossible student. His parents and teachers, concerned over a wild imagination connected to a hyperactive physique, requested his admission to the Foremost Correctional and Mechanical School in Fairmont, Kansas, in 1899.
"It is one thing for children to dream," wrote his father, "but Ralph constantly brings his dreams into reality, using talent and skills neither we nor his teachers can claim to have given him. Though he is not yet 10 years old he has performed such 'miracles' as diverting the stream behind our house into our basement so as to have an indoor swimming pool! Is there a place at Foremost for such a lad?"
There was! And in 1907, the year of his graduation, Ralph became its valedictorian. From there he entered the Boulder Architectural and Engineering Home, receiving his certification with honors in just under six years, a record for the institution which had a fairly difficult eight year program. Degree and recommendations from professors in hand, Ralph returned to the place of his destiny, Seattle, in 1913, and immediately obtained a position on the city's survey crew.(Fig.-2)
From his diary we know he was determined to repair the trust he had lost many years before and create a new order:
"... that would elevate opinion of myself and Seattle as if it were ascended to the golden gates of Heaven itself Yes, golden gates. Now that's a good idea! Wonder where we could put them?..."
Using the "golden gates" theme, he proposed a strategy for the city's development which he presented to the Engineering and Planning Department in the spring of 1915. It seems he never received a reply. Was it because they didn't take him seriously, or as he claimed many years later, "Walter Stanweed, who was the Assistant City Engineer, and to whom I had addressed my letter with plans for the Golden Gates, mysteriously left the city's
employment and soon thereafter turned up in San Francisco. Then, how long was it, a year or two maybe, before we heard the news—San Francisco would build a bridge and call it the Golden Gate! He stole that idea from me, and there was not a dad blamed thing I could do about it! Why, whoever heard of a bridge called a gate, anyway!"
"Chew thinks of each of his works as a 'MaMaism'. They result not from one of the many exclusionary principles which have governed artistic movements throughout history, but an embracing of all techniques, all media. and all philosophies.
"Ralph Doid excites him, because without any conscious knowledge of it. Doid was an early MAMAist! Realistic yet abstract, funny yet intensely serious, of both mind and body, he typifies a growing international circle of artists who embrace the motto, 'Come to MaMa.'
Though his Golden Gates initiative failed, within two years Ralph had worked his way into a position on the City Planning Commission through normal channels. Here, among the ranks of Albert Landis, famous for putting the "Green" in Greenlake, and Miriam Flattery who invented asphalt paving for the city in 1932, Ralph's legacy of theoretical thought blossomed.
Fig. 3 The Golden Gate Bridge. Could it have been Seattle's?
The Centennial Celebration Banner
There are five works represented on the Centennial Celebration Banner. Chronologically they are: The Oriental Obelisk (4); Ralph's Innovations in Psychotherapy (3); his plans for a Floating City Hall (1) & (2); the self designed Architecture of his House (5); and perhaps his masterwork, the Great Wall of Seattle (6) & (7).
His idea was ill received by the City Council though. According to record, he was informed that the water in the bay was exceedingly deep and asked how or on what the Obelisk would be built. Ralph answered cooly that just as with the earlier Denny Regrade project, the City should consider a Queen Anne regrade with the dirt going to create an artificial island for the Obelisk.
It is to Mr. Doid's credit that although the Obelisk was never approved, his vision of the future was exceptionally keen (as we shall see time and again). Today we look with great enthusiasm to the Orient,
especially Japan, for partnerships in business and technology, and consumer products. In addition, his explorations into solar power predate our own need for this resource by 60 years!
Like Kafka, Jung, Schlantmeister, and Freud, Doid was captive to a mind of incomprehensible psychological inquest. If we are to believe the record of letters left behind, Ralph corresponded freely and inventively with other great minds. Below, a letter dated February 23, 1930 from Sigmund Freud to Doid, is a case in point.(Fig.-4)
February 23, 1930
My Dear and Great Friend Doid,
Many thanks for your letter, and my apologies for a tardy reply. Alas, duties here at my Vienna Institute keep me from the fast break correspondence which I relish.
I guess I could ramble on and on about my current psychoanalytical work with the ego, the uh ok and the no no, which I know would interest you greatly, but I am really more fascinated in discussing that innovation you forwarded to me in your last letter- that inkblotch! (Fig.-5) Your
idea that it might act as a 'canal' into the unknown regions of the psyche is positively genius! Why, I stared
at that thing for hours, seeing a machination of faces, no, heads, intent on disturbing the ego underpinnings of Saturnalia. I realized then that I was more in need of analysis than I ever, ever suspected! In future years I predict your, what shall we call it, the Doid Ink Blot Test, will allow psychiatrists and therapists to schedule many extra thousands of visits with their patients!
I would like to recommend you to my regents as a paid guest speaker at one of our future conferences, perhaps a CME on Maui, in January of next year? Id be fun, don't you think?
PS... better try to obtain a patent!
(1) & (2) The Floating City Hall
If one were to describe Ralph Doid's career on the
Planning Commission in a single word, that word would be frustration. By 1940 Ralph had been at work for 25 years, but he still couldn't point to
a single idea which had been approved
by the city. Out of this frustration grew
his design for a floating city hall.
Though never intended for actual
construction, Ralph joked.
"...how convenient it would be to get
them all into one big boat and give
them a good pushl"
The templates are from a series
which he designed outlining 'famous
floating buildings' around the world.
Later he confided in his colleagues
that he was having a difficult time
deciding whether the new city hall
should float on its side or bob up and
down (also see Doid's Dilemma).
This and other schemes were emblazoned in a song of the time, popular with school children and their parents alike. Ask someone who attended elementary school in Seattle in the 40's and they'll most likely remember it. This is Baldwin Sardoon's version:
Da da da da
what did you do?
Da da da da
what did you do? (Chorus)
Tired feet, you get your wish,
To ride downtown in a fish.
Underground. out of the rain,
But some people say he is a scatterbrain.*
Do you remember Queen Anne Hill?
And what they did with the regrade fill?
If you don't, tisk, tisk, tisk,
It's the Oriental Obeliskl
Look out in the bay,
City Hall just floated away.
I don't know when well get it back,
I guess Ralph Doid is just a quack.
Da da da da..etc.
* This verse refers to the underground trolly proposed by Doid. If he were only alive to see the new Metro Tunnel completed in 1990!
Look past the major elements on the banner to the blue and white background. This is a representation of the actual critical path management chart prepared by the Coroner's Office following Mr. Doid's demise in 1956.
Ralph took great pride in the fact that he had designed his personal
residence. Completely without artistic distinction, the house never-
theless contained one interesting feature, an exterior door on the
second floor without adjoining stairs. Neighbors joked that it was
Ralph's "door to nowhere". But on May 25th, 1956, sometime during
the night, it became a door to somewhere for Doid. His body was
found the following morning beneath the unfortunate architectural
The management chart was prepared to determine how construc-
tion was allowed to proceed without proper city inspection and
adherence to the building codes. It wasn't the only time that Ralph
Doid had snuck around the city bureaucrats!
(6) & (7) The Great Wall of Seattle
Strange and weird things began to happen around what is now the Tukwila/1-5 exit in the spring of 1948. Construction was beginning on a project which no one was quite sure about. Plans were marked TOP SECRET. Contractors were threatened to remain silent. Fences and barricades were erected blocking boulevards and streets. Millions of tons of stone were dumped on lawns and in parks. Heavy equipment rumbled through neighborhoods in the dead of night. Houses were condemned and occupants given only days to vacate.
As horrendous as this seems, it was months before a brave reporter from the Seattle PI broke the story. "Doid Scandal Rocks Council" read the headlines. Something that had remained secret for so long swept Seattle overnight.
Clearly, a wall, a great wall, was being constructed around the city. But how and why would one individual forge such a plan? Doid was hauled before the Council.
(From the City Councfl transcript, July 16, 1948):
Was it your idea? Yes.
Did you use personal staff wittingly or unwittingly to develop the plans? No.
The scheme was entirely yours and yours alone? Yes.
How did you obtain the permits? Forged the signatures.
And the Council approval for capital improvement expenditures? Forged the signatures.
You forged our signatures? Yes.
Did you send the work out for bid? No, no bids. Just handed out the contracts.
Didn't anyone think this whole thing seemed a bit fishy? No.
No one? No. Seems people don't think much these days.
Why did you do it? It's a complicated idea.
Well, will you try to tell us? I don't think you'll understand.
Tell us Ralph! Ok, ok! You all know I've worked for the city for 30 years. Seattle is such a gem. Sometime in the future people will probably think this is just about the best darn place in the world to live. I've used my entire career to try to give her a little more character and charm. But you've stopped me at every turn! All these years I've been trying to get you to look into a crystal ball, but you guys are just staring into a fish tankl Know this, there will be an underground trolley in Seattle someday! There will be an Oriental Obelisk! Don't you want to have those things here instead of somewhere else? Yes, I tried to build that wall! I tried because no one in this piece of paradise would listen to me. And you would have thanked me too. Yes sir, twenty or thirty years from now when people catch on to what a nifty place this is, they're gonna try to come here. Millions of 'em! And by gosh, what are you gonna do? How are you going to keep them out? How are you going to keep real estate prices down? Keep your air clean and your streets safe to walk? How? The Chinese knew how, and it worked for them for hundreds of years. They built a wall. I intended to build one too! I'm sorry I failed.
Ralph Doid was dismissed from his post as a City Planner. During the subsequent trial he was brilliantly defended by a young lawyer, J. Robert Rollins, who later went on to become Govenor of the State of Washington. Their defense is considered a legal classic, being the first and major precedent for what we now call the insanity plea. Was it the pharmaceuticals which his mother tested during her pregnancy? Was it the inability of his parents to give him a loving and secure childhood? Was it an unknown trauma at Foremost Correctional and Mechanical School? Or was it simply a radiant life burning too brightly before its time?
The Centennial Celebration Banner says it all I think: Ralph Doid ADVENTURER. PROTAGONIST. DREAMER. AVATAR. VISIONARY. REPARTEE. HYPOTHETICIST. STOIC. PONDERER. GENIUS!
Thank you Ralph Doid!
About the Artist and Author
C.T. Chew, master craftsman and romantic visionary, plays with all the masks of multi-media in his search for an ideal art where all are one. He calls this concept of an engulfing contemporary school of artistic philosophy MAMA. Arthur Weissman, writing in Art on Art magazine says:
Mr. Chew has been a resident artist in Seattle for over twenty years. His pieces are in numerous public and private collections. In 1989 the Seattle Art Museum exhibited a retrospective covering 15 years of his work as part of the Documents Northwest series. He and a work about Ralph Doid are included in the book Fifty Northwest Artists.
"Oriental Obelisk", Cyanotype, 1981.
The Floating City Hall", Cyanotype, 1981.
"Ralph Doid City Planner", Assemblage, Collection of the City of Seattle, 1981.
'The Obelisk", Mixed media, Collection of Carolyn Law.
'The Obelisk", Color Xerox Stamps, 1981. "Ralph Doid, City Planner", Video, Collaboration with Bill Ritchie, 1982.
"Doid's Dilemma", Mixed media on paper. Collection of Russel Barsh, 1982.
"Doid's Dilemma", Mixed media assemblage, Collection of Doris and Martin Haykin, 1982.
"Centennial Celebration Banner", Woolen Embroidery, Collection of Bryan Schiffrin McMonagle Elston & Twiss, 1990.
C.T. Chew exposing the giant cyanotype for the Ralph Doid display.